Let’s Talk…Organizing!

Probably every woman feels a connection with this word organization in some way–whether she loves it or feels like it totally evades her life.   We all really want to create homes that are comfortable spaces for our family to live; if clutter is getting in the way of that comfort, organized living can help.  Some degree of lived-in-ness makes a house feel comfortable, so being completely organized isn’t the end goal.  Rather finding bits of organization that work for us to help make our lives flow a little more easily.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who is in love with the concept of organization, is a master list-maker, but can’t quite stay on top of the whole organizing thing. :) I’m not sure it makes sense for me to love talking about organization so much with how I struggle to stay organized–as I’m writing this list there are paper piles around me and there’s a toaster on the floor in the dining room.  But I do love coming up with plans, and I think little-by-little I’m learning some new habits that are helping our family.

Shelley wrote a post on organizing, that really made me want to talk organization.  I knew a comment answering her question about how I try to stay organized would probably turn post length, so here is the reply in a post. :)

Organization Ideas that Work for Me:

Simplify.  Cut back. Get rid of anything that is not  useful or important to you.  The less you own the less there is to keep track of and the slimmer the chances for things that you do need to get lost within piles of things you don’t need. Piles of stuff are an eyesore.  I am keenly aware from experience–an on-going life experience, you know. :)

Plan Menus. It would never work for me to stick to a rigid plan.  However, planning menus and a grocery list around those menus helps me to have a list of available menus to choose from.  If we’re not in the mood for the food on today’s menu or it doesn’t work for the time I have to cook or I didn’t thaw the meat or…well,  you get the picture–I choose a menu from another day or make something that suits the day my mood.  It still helps tremendously to have ideas in front of me. Maybe I look at it more as menu options than a menu plan.

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Organizing containers: Rubbermaid plastic and space rack from Target

Create places of belonging. I’ve heard that women spend HOURS every week looking for things.  That just seems like a waste of time.  Keys are probably the thing we used to look for the most often.  Few things are as frustrating as being late for an appointment, heading for the door, and having no idea where to find the keys! It became important to me that the keys have one place of belonging.  Anytime we see the keys anywhere besides that one place we now know where to put them.  Having a spot for the keys has saved us hours by now, I’m sure.   Other things at the top of the list for needing a home: shoes, library books, cell phone, pacifiers. :)

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The organizing containers are produce boxes cut in half.
Full disclosure: this same drawer is now full to the brim of
little boy treasures. It’s time for a clean up!

Learn from organized people.  I have read several books on organization, I’m a sucker for blog posts and magazine articles on the subject, and I love listening to organized people talk about how they do life.

Sometimes it’s hard to get the helpful tidbits we need, though. Mostly organization is such a part of the organized person’s life that the little routines which would be helpful to non-organized people don’t even register to organized people as something to explain. :) It’s just something they do without even thinking about it.  Sometimes in conversations they’ll drop a jewel of wisdom, though.  Like a blogger once mentioned with shame that she left her house without first having the toys picked up.

I was thinking, “Oooooh, so that’s a thing you do???! Like….you always straighten the house before you leave???” What a revelation.  I asked one of my friends if she always cleaned up before leaving the house–completely expecting her to laugh. She said, “Yes. It really bothers me to come home to a mess.”  (??!!??!!) :) When I remember I now have the boys pick up toys and things before leaving.

It really is nice to come home to a clean house.  It’s easy for me to think that they aren’t finished playing with whatever they have out.  In reality they won’t want to play with the same things by the time we get back, so they would simply add more toys to the play things already out.  It is better to start with a clean room then they’ll have an easier time picking up at the end of play.

A few years ago I started following the blog IHeart Organizing.  Especially back then she would talk through why she organized things in certain places and how the system worked for them.  It helped me get into the head of an organized person and gave me a few ideas to use in our house.  I also liked Large Family Logistics for breaking down daily life into very basic patterns. I could write an entire post on the things I learned from this book.

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Organizing containers: from IKEA. Definitely recommend!

Be okay with Chaos. I feel like mostly this is not even needed on a get organized post for messy people because we are so flexible and creative that we might be too okay with the chaos.  I still find that when I get into Operation Organize mode I begin to struggle with the mess of daily life.  I see it as one of the other–mess or organization.  Being okay with mess within the framework of organization is key for living happily. 

Use a planner. I am in love with my planner. I even wrote, “This book is very important to me. Please return to:” in the front of the book. Does that make me a planner geek, or what?  

A planner is to a brain what an external hard drive is to your computer. I already bought Michelle’s birthday gift and can hardly wait to give it to her.  Unless I write a reminder to ship it to her in March, I will most likely forget to mail it until the day of her birthday–at the earliest. I will score brownie points with Michelle if she gets her gift before or on her birthday, so that’s going in the planner for sure! :)

I could seriously go on and on and on about why I like planners.  The month at a glance is essential for keeping track of guests and travels and appointments.  Later I add in those dates to my week, and plan the rest of the days around them.    If I plan a week’s work out ahead of time I usually manage to accomplish a little more than when I wing it. As much as I love the planner I don’t take it to seriously, either.  It’s super easy to change plans. :)

Label. This is a key concept I learned from I Heart Organizing.  When you go to the work of coming up with a new system, it is much, much more likely to stay organized if you label the bin or shelf than if you leave it to memory.

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Organizing containers: magazine boxes from Target and IKEA covered with IKEA wrapping paper

Use routines. The boys have morning routines and evening routines. Daily chores as well as jobs that happen on certain days of the week. I learned from Large Family Logistics to assign certain types of jobs to certain days of the week.  Routines are more gentle than schedules, so they work much better for wanna-be organizers.  A schedule plans a time for each activity.  A routine suggests what comes next. We often go for days or weeks completely ignoring our routines.  The benefit, though, is that once life feels out of control we have something solid to go back to. There’s a plan in place that we know works well for us.

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Plan ahead. Sometimes it’s just little things like thinking through what everyone will wear next day when we meet up with friends.  This eliminates problems such as the one shirt that fits and I like is in the washer (still wet, I should probably explain for you organizers). Sometimes it saves a trip when you write a reminder to mail a package so that you remember it when you head out for an appointment. It might mean that when you go grocery shopping you remember to get the special groceries for company that is coming for the weekend.

Often it means more calm.  Instead of a last minute scramble of jackets and shoes and water bottles and WHERE IS MY PHONE?!, it can be a reminder to pick up toys, boys getting their coats and shoes at a leisurely, child-friendly pace, gathering library books, water bottles and a snack, the item to return, the grocery list–and even remembering the coupons. On the rare days when we have the latter version of getting out the door I feel like I have this mom-gig down! :)

Use frustrations as motivation. When I find myself getting frustrated at the same problem over and over again, I realize it’s an area that needs some thought.  Just yesterday I realized that I have gotten annoyed over and over because the boys use the basket of clean, white towels that are freshly laundered and ready for guests as a step stool!!!  Not only do the towels get mashed down and un-rolled and un-fresh, they are also un-white from the boys’ dirty feet!   Yesterday I decided that the next time I have the towels ready for guests I’ll move the basket to the guest room.  It’s a ridiculously simple routine I can incorporate that will save a lot of frustration and a lot of re-washing and time.

There are other things–hats and gloves always scattered across the living room inspired me to cover two boxes and label them.  The solutions really aren’t hard. It’s just realizing a problem and coming up with a plan to fix it.

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Organizing containers: cardboard boxes covered with contact paper

Do it right away.  My mother-in-law is one of the most organized people I know, and I’ve learned a lot from being with her.  One thing I’ve learned from her is to do things right away.  If I would be all cozy on the couch with a book and a throw and someone would call to tell me the dates they’re coming through Atlanta and want to see us, I would make a mental note to put that in my planner.  Most likely life would happen, and I’d forget to note the date.  I might forget which date they were coming and would need to email a date check.

If the same situation were true for my MIL, she would get up from her cozy spot right away to put the date on her calendar. If we’re washing dishes at her house and she sees something borrowed she needs to return to her friend, she would take it straight to her vehicle instead of letting it become part of a pile in her house.

White Space is your friend.  This is another tip I learned from my MIL.  She’s the kind of person who makes you want to take pictures of her drawers and cupboards because they are so neat. I like all the space in her cupboards.  She has a pile of things in a cupboard, but there is also space around the stacks of things which is so pleasing to the eye.  I would have thought, “What else can I fit in here?”

White space is not only restful for the eye, it helps maintain order.  It’s easier to put things away neatly if there is enough space.  I have always adored displays in stores that incorporate a lot of white space.  If you have a tiny house and a big family it might be impossible to have extra space, that’s true.  A lot of us could have more space. We have to judge whether we like the space or the things more.  :)

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Organizing containers: from The Container Store and Goodwill

Make peace with reality.  Organization might be a little like diets.  We always  think we’re overweight and think we have weight to lose no matter what the number on the scales. :)  Maybe that’s a good thing to remember as well–that organized living is relative. We need to be at peace with what is naturally do-able for our own personality and lifestyle and the personality and culture of our own family. Just as every woman has her unique beauty, homes have their unique strengths as well.

Some parts of organizing will work well for one person and not for you.  What looks messy to one person looks charming to another. What is organized to another person might look sparse to someone else. What are the organizing tips that don’t work for you? How do you keep your life more organized?

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13 thoughts on “Let’s Talk…Organizing!”

  1. Stopping by from the link up at Adopting Divine Moments. Currently SUPER FRUSTRATED with the lack of organization in my house. It was already getting bad and then I sprained my ankle and now it’s a hot mess. *sigh* Bookmarking this for when both feet are fully functional and I can climb up and down and in and out of things in my house again!

  2. I feel like such an organizing geek for how much I enjoyed this post. I’d love to read more about this subject.:)

    1. Haha! Thanks. :) I have a post on the boys’ room in my drafts folder, so there will be more at some point. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Christy, your post inspired me to start organizing closets better. I’ve been working on them this week, and don’t intend to stop until the mess is contained in a better way. :) Wonderful ideas, Thank-you!

  4. Wow Christy. I love this post! and this sentence is so true, “Being okay with mess within the framework of organization is key for living happily.”

    As much as I love organization, I joke truthfully that I don’t always have a lot to point to as evidence of such! Having containers to put things is huge for us. Just like you said the needs and preferences are individual, I realize that with how I “group” my clutter. I have variegated heights of white goodwill purchased bowls and vases on a tray sitting on my sideboard. The sideboard is everyone’s catch all flat surface! :) Not exactly pretty, but. it’s a place that’s handy for those everyday things that would otherwise end up misplaced.

  5. This is so great, Christy! So many great ideas, and I love how you make practical meet beautiful too. YES to the organizers, whether in drawers or baskets on shelves… They are worth their money! And YES to the organizer/planner. Mine is my brain, and if I’ve ever lose it, I’d be absolutely so lost, because I write things in it and forget it, so it doesn’t take up my precious memory space. :) Great post!

  6. “A planner is to a brain what an external hard drive is to your computer.” I really (really!) like that statement!! I refer to my planner as my brain-book. It gives my brain white space when I’m able to write things down in one place instead of trying to remember all things all the time. For the most part, my planner stays open on the kitchen counter where it’s easy for me to jot things down throughout the day. Sometimes it is almost therapeutic for me to write things in my planner and since I don’t journal, I have kept all my planners. It feels like my life is in those books and in looking back over the planners it gives me a good idea of daily life was like 5 or 10 years ago.

    I appreciate the organizing ideas. I enjoy reading (and seeing) how other people do organizing and routines in their home. Thank you for sharing!

  7. My largest problem with organization is getting others who live with me on board! I have systems that help and everything has a place but I’m the only one regularly following the system it putting everything in the right place!
    I do find helping the littles lay out clothes the night before speeds up morning routines.

    1. Yes, it takes sooooo much work if you’re the only one staying after things, and sometimes you just don’t have that much energy to give. Steve and I are both naturally kind of messy, but because he grew up in such an organized home it bothers him when things are too messy for too long. That’s probably one of my bigger motivations. :) If it wouldn’t be for that it would be easier to let things go.

  8. I always love your posts. :) Gives me some great ideas for my own house. :) I like things organized, but sometimes the problem is actually getting something or creating something to help with the organizing!

    1. Thanks, Gen! Yes, storage used to be my biggest problem, too. Since reading IHeart Organizing long enough, I’ve fallen so in love with pretty storage that I’ve started using my birthday money for it, and that’s the sections of stores I love browsing most. :) Since I almost always buy clearance items instead of buying a set of baskets that would work well, it took awhile to figure out what would be a good fit for which shelves or cupboards.

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